Trent Lott’s Inner Majority Leader Emerges
A frustrated Trent Lott solved a petty dispute between the Majority and Minority Leaders. He then chastised both.
The dealmaking instinct can be hard to shake when one has been Senate majority leader and might again seek that post. Exhibit A: Former Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., who broke a two-week deadlock between his successor, Sen. Bill Frist (news, bio, voting record), R-Tenn., and Democratic leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., over the ratio of Republican and Democratic negotiators on a bill to secure the future benefits of millions with defined benefit pension plans. Frist said the split should be 7-5; Reid insisted on 8-6. The debate devolved Friday into bickering over other issues.
Frustrated, Lott could not contain his inner majority leader. “We’re at loggerheads here. Shouldn’t be,” he said on the Senate floor. “I have a novel idea: Go up to 9-7 or go down to 6-4.” “I’ll take it,” Reid declared. “Nine-to-seven and you’ve got a deal.”
“I’ve never seen this happen before. Never. Not one time when I was majority leader did the minority leader and I not come to an agreement on a number to go to conference,” Lott remarked Friday. “I never remember this happening,” Reid concurred.
Lott then noted that Reid’s style of issuing ultimatums was less helpful than former Democratic leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota.
He then paid Frist some deference. “I want to be helpful. I realize it’s presumptuous of me to talk about this,” Lott said.
Unfortunately, this is less a function of Frist and Reid’s lack of legislative skill than a sign that the environment in the Senate continues to get worse. Both men had reputations as moderates and consensus builders before being elevated to their current posts, at which point both quickly became hyperpartisan grandstanders.